Being frugal is a way of life. It is a choice for those of us who focus on conspicuous consumption rather than indiscriminate spending. But while the goal of both frugal behavior and cheap behavior is to save money, the difference stops there. While the frugal favor value, the cheap are solely focused on getting the lowest price possible.
Do you always go with the lowest bidder? Or do you evaluate the quality of the service relative to the cost? Do you prefer to buy the cheapest model today or would you rather hold off until you can afford to buy a higher quality version down the road? Do you take pride in paying your own way or are you just as comfortable letting someone else pay for you?
These are the questions to ask yourself.
As one who regularly looks for ways to save money, I would hate for people to think of me as cheap when in fact, I am frugal. But while I see clear distinctions between being frugal or cheap, I understand how others may find the terms synonymous. As such, I would like to clarify the difference between being frugal or cheap.
The Frugal Mindset
Taking advantage of other people. Cheap people look to save money by any means necessary even if that is getting other people to pay for their stuff. Sometimes without the others even being aware (at least so they think). Splitting the check is a good example. When you go out to eat with friends, do you always pay your fair share or even more than your fair share (including drinks, desserts, shared appetizers, taxes, tip)? We all know those who skimp when it comes time to split the bill. And it’s a very annoying behavior. That’s being cheap.
Alternatively, when I go out to eat and the bill arrives, I will make sure to pay a little extra. The way I see it is I’m paying for the privilege of my friends’ company. If everyone does this and there’s a little extra at the end, we all can take a little back. But no one feels they paid for someone else.
If I don’t have the money to spend, or don’t want to spend my money in that way, I will politely decline the invitation rather than expecting someone else to pay my way.
Buying low cost, low quality products. Do you own a computer? Over the years, I have bought many. And buying the least expensive one is almost always a mistake. The performance is horrible. They are difficult to use. It doesn’t last long and cannot be easily upgraded. Instead, I prefer to buy a solid middle performer. I keep it maintained and upgrade it periodically and it lasts me years. Even if I pay twice as much, it lasts me three times as long and the experience is much more enjoyable.
How about running shoes? As an occasional distance runner, wearing high quality shoes is a necessity. Not only will higher quality shoes last longer, they are so much better for your feet. I buy my shoes from a specialty running store that not only measures the size of my feet, but also records my gait pattern. I get shoes that are specifically designed for my particular foot and my running style. This helps prevent injury and improves comfort and speed.
Making things by hand. Sticking with the food theme, the cheap will eat fast food, the frugal will shop for healthy food and prepare the meal themselves. But it doesn’t stop there. The frugal find ways to make other things by hand – gifts, furniture.
The frugal will also learn to repair the things they own. They will do their own maintenance around the house. They will change the oil in their car themselves.
The frugal tend to be self-reliant and would rather do things themselves rather than pay someone else to do them. They are willing to give up convenience for the sake of saving money.
On the other hand, the cheap tend not to maintain their things. Because they don’t like spending money, they don’t want to hire someone, but they’re also unwilling to do the work themselves. As a result, items don’t last as long, which winds up costing more in the long run.
Does Frugal or Cheap Matter?
In the end, it really doesn’t matter whether you are frugal or cheap. It’s a personality trait. It doesn’t make you a bad person. Maybe annoying, but not bad.
If you reuse coffee grounds, I think that makes you cheap. Second time around coffee just isn’t even worth drinking. Whereas, using ground coffee rather than coffee pods makes you frugal. It is certainly easier to make coffee with a pod, but it costs significantly more. If you drink coffee every day, that additional expense can add up. But the savings you get from reusing grounds isn’t worth it.
I don’t like low quality, cheap new cars. Instead, I would rather drive a used older model, higher end car. It will last longer. It’s safer. And the driving experience is more enjoyable.
Of course, if you really want to exercise your frugal side, ride your bike and walk rather than owning a car. It will save you money and improve your health. My neighbor rides 15 miles to and from work every day. It’s downhill in the morning, but uphill on the way home. Not only is he saving money, he isn’t contributing to the pollution problem, and he never needs to work out.
There are many ways you can be frugal without being cheap. That’s the fun part. Find ways to have a high standard of living without spending as much money and without being cheap.
Readers, are you frugal or cheap or neither? Please let me know other ways to be frugal without being cheap.